The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Perfect Symmetry Iain Moffat , October 29th, 2008 10:54

Keane - Perfect Symmetry

Ordinarily, of course, we'd never recommed that bands should go back on their principles, but there is something to be said for some of the ones that get a little flexible with their absolutes. Queen, for example, used to explicitly and proudly state that their albums were free from synthesisers, but then they went and did 'Flash', 'The Works' and numerous other records that, frankly, rather enhance their canon. Or take the Manics: insistent that it'd be one album then glorious implosion they may have been, yet who among their admirers would be happier had they never made it to The Holy Bible and/or Everything Must Go? And then there's Keane. They may have chanced upon the USP of producing indie-venue-friendly anthems without resorting to guitars at a time when, thanks to the combined impact of The Darkness, the Libertines and, lest we forget, Busted, such a move seemed commercially suicidal, but have they stuck to their s'pose-a-strum's-out-of-the-question guns? Unexpectedly not.

Mind you, you can see why they might've wanted a rethink. After all, the post-Franz breakthrough brigade have almost all had terrible trouble with those difficult second albums, and, while it wasn't the squanderous scupperer that, say, Ta-Dah or Ten New Messages was, there's little denying that Under The Iron Sea is something of a pop footnote. Moreover, what we might shudderingly term indie piano has become a magnet for critical brickbats in the last couple of years, with not every band guaranteed the hefty-selling cushions that must make life that little bit easier for the Hoosiers and Scouting For Girls. None of which was any preparation at all for 'Spiralling', the spectacular single-that-isn't that opens proceedings here. Not only is it awash with actual guitar action, but it's also lightly illuminated by a glitterball thanks to both the excitable keyboards and the weirdly gym-bunny bass, and Tom Chaplin's vocals, always tending towards the dramatic even on lesser moments, are enthused and scampering like never before, resulting in a middle eight that borders on windswept kitsch. It's an impressive statement of intent, and one that's led some commentators to note with alarm that the trio seem to be embarking on a Simple Minds revival. Perhaps that's the case, but even then it would be fair to say that at least they're tending towards the eurotrash sophistry of the first six albums rather than the hollow bombast that followed.

In fact, there's an enthusiasm for the early 80s on display throughout here - not to mention far more synth activity than they're used to - that, while admittedly somewhat fashionable at present, is too gleefully felt to be insincere. Current offcut 'The Lovers Are Losing' and the likable, life-affirming 'Better Than This' are in tremendous affectionate hock to 'Union City Blue' and 'Ashes To Ashes' respectively, for example, while the swoonsomely lush 'You Don't See Me' manages to call to mind Jon and Vangelis' 'I'll Find My Way Home', but Keane, thankfully, are straying well beyond mere jukeboxery. The familiar "skyline / eyeline" rhyme proves to have been no one-off; Perfect Symmetry is awash with the vocabulary of the New Pop era ("I searched through the wreckage for signs of life, scrolling through the paragraphs," contends the title track, just as if 1984 was barely around the corner, while "We are just the monkeys who fell out of the trees / We are blisters on the earth" is pure Le Bon), picturesque and tinged with a mild undercurrent of apocalypse, and all the better for it. Indeed, so unafraid are they of lyrical disarm this time around that Tom sings of getting naked twice, and sticks a rock'n'roll song on the jukebox to drown everything out during 'Playing Along'. Lawks!

Not that this'll convince everyone, however. Let's be honest - Keane have probably by now got used to the idea that they'll always be anathema to a section of the audience that may well have first stumbled across them in festival surroundings, and, moreover, it's entirely possible that some of their established fanbase might regard this as something of a folly, in spite of the fact that the likes of 'Love Is The End' and 'Perfect Symmetry' itself wouldn't have sounded totally out of place on Hopes & Fears. Plus, 'Black Burning Heart' contains a talky bit in French, and that's something that invariably causes arguments whether it's Bat For Lashes or Patsy Kensit doing so. Still, they're to be applauded for producing work this curiously untidy, for overcoming the notion that they always placed scale above sparkle, and for being so comepllingly joyous that it'd be hard not to contend that something rather unbegrudgably wonderful has happened in their world in the last two years. Perfect Symmetry may not be perfect, but it's a long way from being as square as Keane's detractors could ever have anticipated.